15 Questions for ...

mschmidt of k10k
In early '99, two guys from Denmark – M. Schmidt and Toke – ignited the Web design community with their collaborative playground, k10k.net. We spend 15 minutes kicking it with Michael Green Schmidt.

1. What did you do before the Web?
I worked a lot with print design, doing odds and ends, jobs for different advertising agencies. Before that I worked in a role-playing store, as a librarian at a children's library, and studied English and Ancient History at the University of Copenhagen. Sometimes I wonder how I ever managed to get to where I am now.

2. How long have you been doing this, and how did you get started?
I've been doing Web design for about four years now (and print stuff for six) ... ever since I got hired as an art director at Denmark's first Internet magazine,  on-line. I hadn't really been into the Web before that – I mean, I had an e-mail account at the University but that was about it – but when I started working at  on-line, I felt compelled to actually know what the magazine was about.
        It sure didn't take long for me to get hooked – pretty soon me and the editor were up all night, doing twelve-hour IRC sessions, and missing deadlines because of that. A year later the magazine folded, and I was hired as the second employee at a brand new Danish Internet agency.

3. Your layouts are the tightest I've seen, and every element on your pages is interactive, surprising, and navigational. Nothing is just there to look pretty. How did you evolve this style?
Practice, really. And then more practice. My Virus One site reflects the kind of design I enjoy myself: dirty, boxed-in, tons of layered content, text that's only used as a graphic object, yet ordered and strict and functional.
        It just took me a long time to figure this out - to say to myself, okay, write down some concepts that describe what you like and start doing stuff within the boundaries of those words.
        Some people are just born with a ready-to-go design style embedded in their hands – like Finnish boy wonder, Miika Saksi, who's always done highly individual designs, and also my very good friend and co-conspirator, Toke Nygaard (who I do K10k with). But most of us have to spend a lot of time practicing, honing our skills, and actually thinking about what we're doing.
        I now feel pretty confident in what I do, and believe I have my own design style – but then there's always the risk of repeating myself, of getting too recognizable. It's very thin line to balance on.

4. Do you feel that the visual language you've created for the Web is just getting started, or do you think it's reached a certain level of stability and maturity?
Oh, I'm sure it's just getting started. I don't feel that the Web has a distinct visual language of its own yet – the Web borrows words and phrases from different forms of media, film, print, etc, but to me it feels like we're still missing a lot of letters from the alphabet right now.
        The Net is still too much like print, too much like film, too much like everything else, and most designers are too busy working within the confines of these "old" media types to really brand the Internet as a new form of media.
        Mostly, though, it's not the fault of the designers – the clients are really the ones to blame. They want the website that everybody else has – the website where they don't need to produce new material, but can use their existing ad copy. And what's the point of doing extremely cutting-edge work, of using the Internet in new and exciting ways, if the client just isn't interested – and actually prefers that you just stick the mould laid out by 200 other websites?
        I'm not saying I'm different or better than these people – I do the corporate stuff every day too. But, seeing that I do run K10k with Toke, I can honestly say that we're at least trying to be different – and trying to feature things from people who don't mind breaking all the rules.

5. Where do you see yourself going next on a stylistic level?
I want to step back a bit, and start working more with printed material – I really miss the sense of complexity and detail that can only be found in a 14" x 14" poster in 300 dpi. I've also thought about getting involved in motion graphics, sound and video – but I think my style is more suited to flat imagery.
        I don't know really – hopefully I'll be going somewhere interesting.

6. What is the secret of respecting bandwidth while filling the page (and the eye)?
It's simple: know your audience. If you're doing a corporate news site, it's pretty foolish to start working with full-color backgrounds and 200 kinds of animated features; people go to a news site to get information, not to be amused by your thirteen different variations of the "incredibly-slick-bevel-rollover-trick."
        On the other hand, if you're doing a site like K10k, where you know the target audience are designers and designphiles, you're pretty much given a carte blanche to do whatever the hell you want, design-wise.
        Designers will wait for anything they think will be interesting (and people in general will wait for something they need to know – but that's just nasty to use that against them).

7. Was Virus One your first site? How did the site come about?
Well, the current Virus One site is probably the third or fourth incarnation of my personal site – and also the only version I can still look at without feeling sick.
        I think the very first site I did was the website for the Internet magazine I worked at; fortunately, that site is gone now.
        My main reason for doing the site was simply that I wanted a small personal profile-page, my own bit of Internet space, so I had somewhere other than KALIBER10000 to show to people when they asked me what I'd done.

8. How many redesigns did you go through before you evolved that distinctive boxed look?
It took me about a year to do the whole site, and I've since gone back and changed things I was unhappy about, or that aged badly (or that I just got bored with). Most noticeably, the front page which I recently completely re-worked, because I wanted to be able to post news and general info on the first page of the site; I thought that that would be a good incentive for me to actually update the site more often (and it is).

9. Boxes are a natural for the medium, since gifs and table cells are always rectangular. Was this limiting factor in the medium itself the source of inspiration, or do you just like drawing boxes?
Okay, I'll confess. I love drawing boxes – seeing that I can't draw a straight line without a ruler, doing boxes on a computer just seems very natural to me. Ashleigh from primitive actually called me a "line and square junkie" once, and I think that's a pretty fitting description.
        I hadn't actually thought about the whole rectangularity of the Internet, untill you mentioned it – so now it's probably too late to act clever and pretend like it's all intentional.

10. How did you hook up with Toke and decide to create Kaliber10000?
Way back when I did my first version of the Virus site, somebody mailed me and said that he loved my stuff and that I should check out another Danish site, Lots of People in Boxes, because I would probably find that interesting. I did, and so I wrote to the guy behind it, Toke, and told him so. He wrote me back and said thanks.
        After a couple of months had passed I got an e-mail from Toke asking me why my e-mail address was in his girlfriend's address book – and who the hell I was!
        I reminded him that we'd spoken earlier, and we started emailing a lot, sending design links back and forth, the usual stuff.
        It took about a year before we actually met in person, at the Reboot awards in Denmark, but we got really drunk then & became really good friend after that. Nothing like a little alcohol to bring people closer together.
        About a year ago, when we were both very tired and stressed out from our 9-to-5 jobs, we started discussing the idea of a brand new design website, a place where we could feature our own stuff, and do whatever the hell we wanted – but also a place that would put Denmark back on the graphic design map.
        We wanted to create a sort of global playground for designers, who were fed up with boring clients – because we didn't have anything like that in Denmark before.
        I mean, if you ask me what Danish websites I admire, I really can't think of any - there are, perhaps, a couple out there, but nothing like in the US or England or Sweden where the funky stuff is almost everywhere.
        KALIBER10000 is the direct result of that conversation – it only took us a couple of months to get the site up & running.

11. Explain the division of labor. (Toke is the illustrator, right?)
Yeah, toke does all the illustration work at the K10k site – like I said earlier, I can't draw at all, which is quite sad. I've done most of the coding, though, because Toke insists on doing HTML in Freeway, which is an absolute no-no for a site that needs customized ASP and JavaScript.
        However, I think it's a pretty fair 50-50 arrangement when it comes to the design of the site: when we do stuff for the K10k site, we both work on the pieces at the same time, and then send them back and forth for criticism and comments.
        Toke usually starts out with something, because he's extremely good at coming up with fresh and funky ideas on the fly – whereas I'm a bit slower, and need to think things through a bit more.
        We complement each other extremely well - because, even though our design styles are very different, we like the same kinds of design and design-styles.

12. How do you keep the content so fresh?
It's a labor of love, really – we both love the site, and are just happy that so many talented people want to contribute to it. It's not that hard to create a good website, when everybody wants to be a part of it.
        Both of us have very limited attention spans too - we get bored extremely fast - so that forces us to always think of new ideas, new content. Basically we want K10k to be a site that we ourselves would want to visit all the time – nothing more, nothing less.

13. Talk about some of the other projects you're working on.
I was lucky enough to be asked to be a pilot at the uploading.com site, alongside some extremely talented people, and am now writing a semi-montly column there. It's called random(), and it's so nice to actually do something where the text (and not the design) is the most important thing.
        I also recently did a cover-remix for the launch of Invertebrae - Josh from Praystation, good friend, great designer and tattoo-king, did the base, and I messed it up real good. Currently I'm working on both a piece for BORN magazine's birthing room, a gallery piece for THREE.OH, a K10k-piece for construct and a huge design project called My City (with Toke). Phew! It's pretty hectic right now.

14. What is great about the Web that you can't achieve in any other medium as an artist?
The fact that you get to meet and talk to so many interesting and creative people from all over the world.
        The Internet is really the only place where it's so easy to build up a global contact network – and actually manage to stay in touch with hundreds of different artists and designers.
        I also love the fact that you and your work are instantly accessible to millions of people – you don't have to be featured in a magazine, don't have to be a part of an art exhibition, on the Net everybody is just an URL away; and if you do something interesting, chances are that the news of it will spread extremely fast.

15. I know you love Josh's work. Who else do you admire, what else inspires you?
I get inspiration from a lot of sources nowadays - being an avid Mac user, I, of course, dig the new G4 design a lot (and I'll be getting one soon). It's so nice to see a curvy sexy computer that doesn't look like it was found in Toys R Us. And that 22" flat screen monitor - DAMN!
        Comics are always a good inspiration too - even though most of their comics are pretty lousy, the people at Todd McFarlane's studios are doing extremely interesting graphic design-work, very Dave McKean-ish, just dirtier (love McKean's work too, by the way).
        On the Net, I currently find myself being amazed by the work of Janne from pixeljunkie ... it's sooooo sexy-smooth! I'm crappy at working with colors - I usually stick to the same 16 muted colors for all my projects - so I take real pleasure in the work of Niko from ABC, who does vibrant & very living design (his issue for K10k is a great example of this).
        Respect should also go out to Francis Chan and Matthew Willis – I've often written Flash off as a children's toy, for people who like flying circles, and these two people constantly show me how wrong I am. They're both part of the reason why I probably won't go into motion graphics – because I don't want to compete with them.
        Generally speaking I respect people who create – music, design, art, writings, whatever.

Ever Green:


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